Trump ex-Lawyer Cohen breaks his silence. TRANSCRIPT: 12/14/2018, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.
Date: December 14, 2018
Guest: Frank Figliuzzi; Sheila Jackson Lee, Julia Ioffe, David Cay
Johnston, Jonathan Capehart, Wayne Goodwin, Jonathan Lemire, Jennifer
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Citizen Cohen, let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
We begin tonight with two big developments from two critical witnesses in
the special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation. First there is
President Trump`s former fixer Michael Cohen, a man who once said he would
take a bullet for Donald Trump is speaking out, this time he says for the
In his first interview since being sentenced to three years in federal
prison Cohen told ABC News that Trump was aware of hush money payment made
to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. He was aware that he personally
directed those payments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: He directed me to make the
payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters including the
one with McDougal which is really between him and David Pecker and then
David Pecker`s counsel. I just reviewed the documents in order to protect
him. I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: He was trying to hide what you
were doing, correct?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?
COHEN: Of course.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he was doing that to help his election?
COHEN: You have to remember at what point in time that this matter came
about, two weeks or so before the election, post the Billy Bush comments.
So, yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: To help his campaign?
COHEN: To help him and the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He was talking there, of course, to George Stephanopoulos.
Well, this is as NBC News confirms that Trump was in the room during the
August 25th meeting with Cohen and “National Enquirer” chief executive and
close Trump friend David Pecker during the hush money discussions. Cohen
insist he is done being loyal to Trump and done lying but he said the
President is not done lying. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The special counsel did say that he that he – that you
were doing your best to tell the truth about everything related to their
investigation, everything related to Russia. Do you think President Trump
is telling the truth about that?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And are you still cooperating?
COHEN: If they want me I`m here and willing to answer whatever additional
questions they may have for me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. So you are saying there are certain areas you
can`t get into because you are still cooperating with them.
COHEN: Correct. And out of respect for process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And in today`s other major developments, special counsel Robert
Mueller issued a rebuke of another cooperating witness in his probe, former
national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn will be sentenced next week
after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian
In a court filing this week, Flynn`s lawyers noted that he was interviewed
without a lawyer and wasn`t told that lying to the FBI was a crime. In a
memo to the court today. Mueller`s team argued agents followed protocol,
writing, nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted
caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI. The memo went on
to add that Flynn quote “chose to make false statements about his
communications with the Russian ambassador weeks before the FBI interview,
when he lied about that topic to the media, the incoming vice president and
other members of the presidential transition team.”
For more I`m joined by Texas Congresswoman and judiciary committee member
Sheila Jackson Lee, Jason Johnson, politics editor for the “Root” and
former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi.
I want to start with the law, Frank. I want to start with you. This guy,
Michael Cohen, is not a perfect witness but he resembles to me in my
memory, and we will get to the congresswoman on that next, he reminds me of
John Dean in Watergate. Nobody really likes John Dean but he had a great
memory and it turned out he was telling the truth. In fact, we could prove
that with all the tapes that came out from the White House. Dean had Nixon
nailed. Tell us about the power of this guy, I`m calling citizen Cohen.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:
Yes. So first, people need to understand that the feds don`t make criminal
cases on the backs of boy scouts and Sunday school teachers. They flip
people who have committed crimes and have information of value. For
whatever reason those people who have information of value decide and
become motivated to do the right thing and help out. So in my opinion,
while we are all focused on Cohen`s tremendous value to the southern
district of New York case, the payments to women and all of that illegal
structuring of those payments, even perhaps placing Trump in the room with
David Pecker from AMI and Cohen when that criminal act or acts were
I also think the value of Cohen is going to play out over the years and his
history – the history will shape his legacy and that is going to be his
cooperation with Mueller. Don`t forget, Mueller issued a filing saying
that Cohen has provided significant assistance at the core of the Russian
Ultimately, while we are all focused on a felony right now and SDNY and
possible impeachment implications, I don`t think the Senate, two-thirds of
the Senate, is going to bite on that. I think what is going to turn the
tide is the Russian case and Cohen`s help with that, corroborating what
Mueller already has, is going to be critical to that.
MATTHEWS: Congress woman, talk about that. Because you are on the
Judiciary Committee but you are also well informed on foreign policy. Tell
me about how you think the Russian piece of this as Cohen continues to talk
as he is in prison for three years but he keeps talking about the Russia
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, Chris, as you well
know, the Mueller investigation started on the Russian piece. It started
on the question of how much the Russians interfered with the 2016 election.
So the remarks are accurate. It is the pinnacle, if you will.
But what surrounds the pinnacle is all of the other additions of bad
behavior by the President of the United States now confirmed by his counsel
Mr. Cohen, citizen Cohen. We on the judiciary committee want the Mueller
report to be finished to be able to trace the dots as to the relationship
between the meeting that was held in Trump tower, the claim to want dirt on
Hillary Clinton, and how that impacted the campaign. But at the same time,
Mr. Cohen has indicated that Mr. Trump was in a meeting dealing with David
Pecker to make sure that you catch and kill right before the election. So
I would say the Mueller report is a top of the mountain. But what Mr.
Cohen has brought about reinforced the President`s continuous ability to
MATTHEWS: I think that is well said. Let me ask you, Jason. Because what
I like about Cohen`s testimony there – actually conversations with George
Stephanopoulos who really got him to talk.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT: Right.
MATTHEWS: I thought it was interesting when he said we know it is about
the election, we know and basically is a campaign expenditure, the $130 and
the $150, you know, all that money to pay for the women`s silence basically
was a campaign event and an expenditure because it occurred after the
“Access Hollywood” tape. When he was really in doo doo, if you will, and
the last thing he need it was the word to get out, not only that he says
these things about women, but that he actually pays them all of the
JOHNSON: Right. And that he gets other people to help him pay those
people off with impunity. What I thought was really interesting about what
Cohen had to say is that there is only one small slither of a way and White
House has tried to pull this off today of suggesting, well, we knew it was
The only way the President could weasel out of this is if he said I knew it
was wrong but I didn`t know it was illegal. And it is very clear that
Michael Cohen is saying, yes, he knew it was illegal and it was wrong. So
the President has been surrounded by people who are more than capable of
telling him that he was breaking the law and he directed them to break the
law any way if we are to believe Michael Cohen`s testimony.
MATTHEWS: Well, that is why you hire a lawyer.
MATTHEWS: Anyway. The day since Cohen`s sentencing, President Trump and
his Republican allies, such as he has, have argue that Cohen`s claims
shouldn`t be believed. Here they go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I get back to the
fact that Cohen is a liar so I can`t draw any other conclusions and I don`t
draw any conclusion when somebody lies to Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is someone who surreptitiously recording you and
now known as a criminal liar.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terrible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And yet this is someone in your inner circle.
TRUMP: Yes. Well, it happens. I mean, look, it happens. I hire usually
good people. But it just happened.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The fact that you are
giving credence to someone who is a convicted self-admitted liar quite
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Special counsel has it in the court documents.
GIDLEY: I understand that. He is a self-admitted liar. You guys all know
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This is flackery. I mean, who goes to story of this? Senator
Grassley, this is flackery. This is when you have nothing to say except
the boss said this, ditto.
Here is how Cohen, Michael Cohen, rebutted those claims today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So why should we believe you now?
COHEN: Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the
information that I gave to them was credible and helpful. There is a
substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the
fact that I am telling the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Frank, go over that again about how people who flip are not the
most pleasant people because they are flipping for a reason, for self-
preservation and yet when is the green light go on and you say I believe
FIGLIUZZI: Well, when there is corroboration. So your viewers should know
that nothing is brought on – in terms of charges on the word of one
person. Right. There is a massive investigation. There is corroboration.
And I think that is really Cohen`s value is to corroborate what is already
known, fill in some of the blanks that other people have shared and then it
all comes together and you have that human – that human face put to it by
Don`t forget, when it comes to Russia, there is classified intelligence.
There are human sources, technical sources, what Mueller needs is someone
to come into the room and go, yes, that is right. I was there for that or
I heard that talked about. That helps tremendously and that is what
Cohen`s value is.
MATTHEWS: Why did – I know George Stephanopoulos asked him, is he going
to keep lying about Russia and they left it at that.
I want to get to the congresswoman on this. But first, you. Why would he
be hesitant to say what the President is lying about in particular on
FIGLIUZZI: Well, first, I think he is respecting the process. I think he
has been read the riot act by the special counsel team that he should not -
in fact, quite frankly even this interview with ABC is probably problematic
and causing some consternation. But he doesn`t want to spill what he
knows, what he doesn`t know.
Remember, he is going to prison for three years. At some point, he may
decide he`s had enough of the inside of a cell and needs to come forward
even more and cooperate even more. And I think he is trying to figure out
what his role is going to be and when that is going to happen.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, you are very high ranking on the House Judiciary
Committee as you come in with Jerry Nadler as chair and you would be like
two or three down. Do you think you will be, as member, I know you can`t
make the call but do you expect to be calling Cohen as a witness up there
on the Hill?
LEE: I think we absolutely need to have Mr. Cohen as a witness. Already
some of the committees have made invitations. I expect the Judiciary
Committee will likely consider doing the same.
But let me also speak to the point of director Mueller and his
investigation. His silence is golden. His silence is only evidence by the
patter of feet into the courtroom and the sound of the gavel saying guilty.
He is not going to be talking about what Cohen has given him, what Flynn
gave, except for Flynn`s great missteps today. He is only going to make
sounds by the constant indictments. And therefore Cohen is going to be
vital in affirming meetings, along with – remember now, the enormous
amount of tapes that were taken from Michael Cohen`s law office that they
are still going through. So I can imagine, like John Dean, that final tape
that ultimately got Richard Nixon to resign, there may be that smoking gun
tape. And Mueller doesn`t want to blow it.
He wants to give us a report that Congress will have the responsibility to
do its duty. I hope my Republican friends will begin to see the red, white
and blue flag before they see the party flag.
MATTHEWS: Well, that is June 23rd tape where you had Nixon ordering the
FBI to pull back from a case because of the CIA operation.
Anyway, President Trump and counselor Kellyanne Conway are defending
Trump`s alleged role in directing Cohen in the hush money payments by
arguing they weren`t a crime. Let`s watch this flackery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Michael Cohen pled guilty to something that is not even a crime.
Wait a minute. These are campaign – nobody except for me would be looked
at like this. Nobody.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: You have federal election
commissioners, former ones, you have people who are election law experts
saying that just because people who said they were asked to commit a crime
here, there is not a crime. And one guy said today that Michael Cohen pled
guilty to something that is not a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The problem they face here, the Trump finds is that David Pecker
said it is a crime.
JOHNSON: Yes, David Pecker.
MATTHEWS: And Michael Cohen, his lawyer, said he was committing a crime.
JOHNSON: They told him it was a crime. And also ask John Edwards. It is
not like we don`t have a precedent for people being investigated. I mean,
John Edwards got investigated under the Obama administration for this kind
of behavior. So the President can`t claim that he doesn`t know how this
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it put it together, the circumstance of the - I
have said this before, you know. As we say in Washington, what goes around
comes around. That “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump`s, it put away Billy
Bush`s job. Trump got through it but he continues to chase him because
that is what he was covering up, that misbehavior.
JOHNSON: Right. And he knows perfectly well – this isn`t the only time.
These are the two people we have heard about. Who knows how much catch and
kill there was –?
MATTHEWS: Have to go back to the Congress woman for the flash question of
When do you want it? You have a lot Texas colleagues or Republicans more
than you like perhaps. You are surrounded by Republicans. When you sense
they will crack like they did with Nixon?
LEE: Yes. Well first of all, Chris, the Judiciary Committee is going to
be moving forward on basic fact-finding just because we have the
responsibility to do so. Mr. Cohen will be part of it. Some other actors
in this process will be part of it. Throw to build toward understanding
more of what occurred both in the campaign finance violations and certainly
in matters that are constitutional that don`t believe or are not a
impeachment inquiry per se.
But what I would say to my colleagues and when they might crack is, again,
there is such a long litany of the lies that the White House has told.
There are so many actors that have already been indicted. There are
companies that have been indicted that have surrounded the Trump campaign
and there are 13 Russian operatives that have been indicted that surrounded
the Trump campaign. They did the democratic hacking. And the only thing I
would say is to do a little reading, find that final smoking gun that I
truly believe among the tapes that Mr. Cohen has, that Mueller is now
reviewing and I think that that is going to be the step that is going to
move us toward making a decision to respond to the American people and that
is to hold those accountable that have broken the law. That is a simple
premise. It is not witch hunting. It is not partisan politics. It is
holding them accountable and making sure that the White House and the
presidency is held with great integrity.
MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you all. What an important program tonight.
U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. Jason Johnson and Frank
Coming up, six count or six pack, count them. Six Trump operations are
under criminal investigation now. The Trump campaign, the Trump
transition, the Trump inauguration, the Trump administration, the Trump
organization and the Trump foundation. How dangerous are all of these
investigations coming from six directions at Trump?
Plus, following weeks of voter fraud allegations in the race in North
Carolina`s ninth congressional, Democrats and Republicans are faced of a
possibility now of a do-over for the primary as well as the general. We
got the latest on that from the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic
And celebrity Apprentice chief of staff edition, after a chaotic search for
number one, Trump announced via twitter tonight that Mick Mulvaney, the
current director of the office of management and budget will become his,
catch this, his acting chief of staff. Isn`t that redundant, acting? They
are all acting.
Finally, let me finish tonight with a moral echo of what happened on this
day, six years ago and we must remember it.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The president is ending the week under siege, fighting a war on multiple
fronts. We now know there are six – that`s right – six operations
connected to the president under investigation, the Trump campaign, the
Trump transition team, the Trump inauguration, the Trump administration,
the Trump Organization, and the Trump Foundation, all under criminal
The six-pack of investigations are said to include a number of a legend
illegal activities, like campaign finance violations, accounting fraud, tax
fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI.
Four people linked to the Trump campaign itself have already been indicted
by this special counsel. And one of Mueller`s key operating witnesses,
cooperating witnesses, Michael Cohen, told ABC George Stephanopoulos today
that nothing happened at the Trump Organization without the CEO – that
would be Donald Trump himself – knowing all about it.
So the fish rots from the head. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He`s saying very clearly that he never
directed you to do anything wrong. Is that true?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I don`t think
there`s anybody that believes.
First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was
run through Mr. Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump. Even now, he dignifies this.
For more, I`m joined by Julia Ioffe, correspondent for “GQ” magazine,
Eugene Robinson, “Washington Post” columnist, and David Cay Johnston,
founder of DCReport.org and author of “The Making of Donald Trump.”
The number of investigations – I want to go to the Trump whisperer.
David, is this guy a multitasker, like the great – the great Bill Clinton
was able to worry about Monica at the same time he`s doing a health care
thing, and the prompter would blow up and get all ruined, and he would
still be operating as if everything`s calm.
Has he got the kind of temperament to handle six investigations, what we`re
calling a six-pack of problems?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, FOUNDER, DCREPORT.ORG: No.
Donald is not a high-energy person. You know that because, of course, he
denounces other people as being low-energy people. And this is going to
distract him a great deal. He`s going to put a lot of effort into figuring
out how to distract other people and how to muddy the waters and to somehow
try to delegitimize this investigation.
And it`s going to grow well beyond these six. I mean, I think we should
start thinking about the shoes that will drop and that Robert Mueller is a
MATTHEWS: Julia, what do you think of, objectively, if there is an
objective relevance to Trump – six investigations, only one or two have to
make it through the line. He doesn`t need to be impeached six times.
One would be enough.
JULIA IOFFE, “G.Q.”: Well, it`s also, even if he doesn`t get impeached, it
sure doesn`t look good.
I don`t know if you remember that Republican National Convention and how
everybody, including Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump himself, were banging
on about law and order and law enforcement and how they`re the party of law
It sure doesn`t look like it now, especially…
MATTHEWS: Well, they also said that this was going to be what it was going
to be like if Hillary won.
I think it was going to be bad four years anyway. But, yes, this is like -
- this is – seems pretty unprecedented.
MATTHEWS: Gene, I don`t know how many lawyers he`s got now, but he needs a
lawyer – a team of lawyers for each one of these six fronts.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we`re way beyond look good
or look bad at this point, for all the most dedicated Trump base, right?
And then there are people for whom he still can do no wrong, he`s being
persecuted. He feeds this the sort of narrative. And there are people who
buy it. But everybody else, I think, is getting a portrait, this mosaic
that paints a really ugly picture of this guy and the way he does business
and the people around him.
And it`s going to fill in, and it`s going to become clearer and clearer,
and sort of unavoidable. And, no, he doesn`t have enough lawyers. He
doesn`t have enough lawyers in the White House Counsel`s Office. He`s got
his outside counsel of uneven quality, shall we say? And Rudy Giuliani`s
one of them.
MATTHEWS: When`s he start selling the boats and the furniture to pay for
Anyway, throughout the campaign, Donald Trump warned voters that, if she
were like elected, Hillary Clinton would be under investigation for a long,
long time. Let`s watch and listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Hillary Clinton were to
be elected, it would create an unprecedented and protracted constitutional
TRUMP: Haven`t we just been through a lot with the Clintons, right?
Hillary has engaged in a criminal massive enterprise and cover-ups like
probably nobody ever before.
Her current scandals and controversies will continue throughout her
presidency, and we will make it – honestly, look, it`s going to be
virtually impossible for her to govern.
Hillary Clinton will be under investigation for a long, long time for her
many crimes against our nation, our people, our democracy, likely
controlling in a criminal trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you think of that, Julia? Because it seems like all
that the right – and there is asymmetry here – all the right had to do
was pound the table and say words like Whitewater, which nothing was there,
or Benghazi, nothing was there.
But as long as they kept saying the word over and over again, it meant
something to them.
IOFFE: E-mails, also. Remember about her e-mails.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. Where`s the crimes here?
IOFFE: Well, I think what`s also ironic is that, as – the same day that
you had news breaking that there`s a federal investigation into Trump`s
inaugural committee, the Hill – Republicans on the Hill are still having
hearings about the Clinton Foundation.
I mean, it`s beyond ironic.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Dave – David, about the way he does business.
We heard from Michael Cohen tonight, thanks to the interview with
Stephanopoulos, that everything went through Mr. – Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump.
He could resort – avoid giving him still that honorific. It`s Mr. Trump.
He`s the big man. He`s the boss. Everything goes through him.
Now he has the problem of, everything will be blamed appropriately on him.
You can`t say some underling did it, some lawyer did it, some nobody did
it. The big shot approved everything. That`s a problem for him, it seems
to me, in the courtroom.
JOHNSTON: In the courtroom, it`ll be a big problem. But in the public
sphere, Donald will do what he`s always done. He will say, other people
made these mistakes, they didn`t follow the directions I had, or I didn`t
know they were doing that, in an effort to evade responsibility.
And, remember, this is a guy who in the past beat four federal grand juries
and got out of some other legal trouble by ratting out other people. Those
options are no longer open to him.
MATTHEWS: Who`s he got in the room with him? I always ask, who`s in room?
Gene, has anybody got reporting? You have got colleagues like Costa and
all that are always watching the White House. I don`t hear any other
ROBINSON: Well, Rudy`s there.
MATTHEWS: That`s about it. And I`m not sure he`s in the room with him.
ROBINSON: There are some friends, acquaintances from New York who are in
touch with him. But I don`t think they`re necessarily in the bunker with
They call and give – I know one person I`m thinking of who calls and gives
advice that the president doesn`t follow, but keeps that line of
communication open, in case maybe he will take the advice sometime.
MATTHEWS: It`s a nice place living upstairs in the White House. I have
been up there once in my life. And I have to tell you – with the
president, first Bush – it`s nice.
But if you`re up there all alone, and he just has Melania with him, and
IOFFE: Well, and “FOX & Friends,” and “FOX & Friends.”
MATTHEWS: Come on. Give me a break.
IOFFE: “FOX & Friends.”
MATTHEWS: I`m not sure. Who`s he got up there? Oh, you mean he calls up
IOFFE: Well, I think that`s who he watches. That`s where he gets his
Also, Giuliani`s not there. He`s in the Gulf drumming up business.
MATTHEWS: The Gulf.
ROBINSON: The Gulf.
MATTHEWS: Out there somewhere over the Gulf.
ROBINSON: What I have heard is that, at times, when he`s really freaking
out about this and in a rage, really, Ivanka is the only person who can
talk to him.
So I think you would have to say she`s inside. I mean, she can go in and
sort of calm him down.
MATTHEWS: But where`s the value added?
ROBINSON: Oh, I don`t think there is.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I mean. You want somebody who thinks differently
than you and smarter than you.
ROBINSON: I think, objectively, Jared and Ivanka`s advice has been almost
100 percent wrong, 100 percent bad, in terms of personnel.
MATTHEWS: My experience is, get yourself a good tactician before you have
bigger problems. Deal with the problems right now.
And I don`t know if he`s got somebody. He`s got six problems right on his
back right now. What a weekend he`s got.
Julia Ioffe, thank you, Eugene Robinson, David Cay Johnston.
Up next: Following weeks of voter fraud allegations down there, an
unresolved midterm race in North Carolina is still unresolved, Democrats
and Republicans now are planning for a do-over. Looks like maybe a primary
do-over and a general election do-over, because nobody – well, the winner
down there doesn`t look too clean, does he?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It`s been five weeks, do you believe it, since the midterm elections, but
the race for North Carolina`s 9th Congressional District is still
The Board of Elections is investigating allegations of absentee ballot
tampering on behalf of Republican Mark Harris, who appeared to defeat his
Democratic challenger, Dan McCready, by a slim margin.
At the center of the investigation is McCrae Dowless, a political operative
working for Harris who`s been linked to past election fraud allegations.
In an interview today, Harris confirmed reports that it was his decision to
hire Dowless for the campaign, but at no time did he think Dowless was
doing anything illegally, he says.
Well, the state Board of Elections must now decide if a new election is
necessary. The Republican-controlled legislature in North Carolina passed
a bill this week that would also require a new primary election, giving
Republicans a chance to run a different candidate other than Harris.
For more, I`m joined by Wayne Goodwin, the chair of the North Carolina
Mr. Goodwin, thank you for joining us.
This is a tricky situation. But I have to ask you, have you ever heard of
this gambit, this gimmick where you call – you write in for sample ballots
for people that don`t know what`s going on, then you show up at their house
and ask for the ballots?
Have you ever heard of this harvesting operation before?
WAYNE GOODWIN, CHAIR, NORTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: No, this is a new
thing to me.
And I will tell you, this is a disaster for democracy and certainly a
disaster for the Republicans in the 9th Congressional District. But this
is – this is a new one. We are in unchartered territory.
MATTHEWS: Do you know or think – I should ask, do you know if the
Republican candidate or the Republican organization was behind this
particular act of betraying the rights of voters by grabbing – harvesting,
if you will, grabbing their absentee ballot, filling it out themselves, or
destroying it if they don`t like how it was filled out?
GOODWIN: Well, day by day, we hear more and more evidence drip by drip.
And it appears that this McCrae Dowless fellow has worked for Republican
candidates for years. And his – his criminal background and the other
misbehavior and activity of his like this goes back many election cycles.
Mark Harris should have known. And for him to finally admit he hired this
fellow, despite that, that`s quite an admission.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the idea of paying a guy a bounty on the
basis of how many absentee ballots he`s able to bring in successfully, not
people to vote? He`s not paying for walk-around money. This is money paid
to people for results, not efforts, in an election.
I had never heard of that before. You get paid by bringing in the vote?
And that means you`re going to bring it in. And, apparently, this guy
Dowless has brought in like 97 percent returns on that Bladen County
GOODWIN: This behavior, the statistics alone show that it is impossible
for it to happen without some sort of criminal activity.
And the word now is that he pocketed 800 ballots he was holding on to,
apparently once he heard what the vote totals were from absentee ballots.
So we`re hearing more and more every day where this is a game, that it`s a
And Mark Harris needs to answer for that. We need to know, what did Mr.
Harris know, when did he know it? And, of course, he`s now a toxic
candidate for the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think about having a general election and a
primary election, so the Republicans can get rid of this guy you call toxic
as a candidate?
GOODWIN: Well, the – well, originally the Republican-led legislature did
not want to have a new primary, but all of a sudden, right after a
photograph emerged of Mr. Dowless being tied at the hip, literally side by
side with Mr. Harris, it popped into a piece of legislation that passed.
That is an admission by the state Republican Party here in North Carolina
that Mr. Harris is a toxic candidate. And they`re looking for somebody
else. That is an admission.
MATTHEWS: If he knew – if Harris knew about this hanky-panky, this
corruption, this stealing of votes, should he go to jail?
GOODWIN: Somebody`s going to jail. I don`t know exactly what Mr. Harris
MATTHEWS: But if he knew?
GOODWIN: But he knows more than he`s telling.
If he – if he knew, and if he directed it, then I do believe law
enforcement authorities should question him. But I will tell you, we must
have this evidentiary hearing. And it`s been set now for early January.
And we will know a lot more then than now.
But Mr. Harris has a lot of questions to answer. And I believe Mark Harris
is in trouble, and certainly McCrae Dowless is in trouble. Somebody is
going to jail.
MATTHEWS: Would this be good government for North Carolina to simply do
over the primary and do over the general honestly this time, without Mr.
Dowless involved? Wouldn`t that be a good result for your state?
GOODWIN: Well, we want to have an election that is free and fair, where we
know the truth, and that the results reflect the voices of the voters.
And, of course, we have – I have said, as chair of the North Carolina
Democratic Party, we needed a new general election from the get-go. The
allegations now show that the election rigging, the election tampering goes
much deeper than that. This is fraud.
And if the – if the authorities believe there needs to be a primary, then
so be it, but it is imperative that we have a new general election, because
Mark Harris and his campaign and McCrae Dowless broke the law. That`s what
it appears to be every day.
MATTHEWS: Well, as someone who proudly went to UNC and loves it down
there, southern part of heaven, I root your state well in this. I hope you
clean his baby up, and I hope it`s going to look a lot better for North
Carolina if you get it finished up with.
Thank you, Wayne Goodwin.
GOODWIN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, especially for coming on tonight.
GOODWIN: Thank you. My pleasure.
MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump`s “Celebrity Apprentice”-style search
for a new chief of staff comes up to an end, apparently a dead end, with
the president announcing over Twitter tonight the name of a new – catch
this – acting White House chief of staff. What`s that mean?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After a drama-filled search for a new chief of staff, President Trump
announced in a tweet tonight that he has picked Mick Mulvaney, the current
director of the Office of Management and Budget, as his – figure this one
out, if you can – acting chief of staff.”
NBC News reported Mulvaney asked for the acting title and that Mulvaney
wanted to enter the position with a safe exit in place.
This is – this is like Colin Powell. You have to have an exit strategy.
Anyway, the report – reporting is that Mulvaney told allies as late as
Thursday evening – that`s last night – that he wasn`t even going to take
the job and didn`t think he would get it. According to NBC, President
Trump was desperate to kill the storyline nobody wanted to be his chief of
Well, just a few minutes ago, Trump tweeted: “For the record, there were
many people who wanted to be the White House chief of staff.”
MATTHEWS: Over the past week, the president seemed to enjoy hyping up the
selection process. Let`s watch how he did it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We`re interviewing people now for chief of staff, yes.
QUESTION: How long is the short list now?
TRUMP: Five people, really good ones, terrific people, mostly well-known,
but terrific people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But he couldn`t seem to decide if he wanted someone to organize
his presidency or simply to be an enabler.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, I want somebody that`s strong, but I want somebody that
thinks like I do. It`s my vision – it is my vision after all. At the
same time, I`m open to ideas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, as the AP, the Associated Press, aptly put it, the search
for chief of staff had the feel of an unfolding reality TV show.
Let`s bring on tonight`s HARDBALL Roundtable, Jennifer Rubin, Jonathan
Capehart, both opinion writers for “The Washington Post.” Jonathan Lemire
is White House reporter for the Associated Press.
You know, Jonathan Lemire, I have to start with the obvious question. This
isn`t like picking a contestant. This is like a contestant picking a
MATTHEWS: He wants somebody to be his moderator. But he`s a contestant.
He wants to do whatever he wants to do. But he wants somebody to say, you
know, you can`t do that. But don`t tell me that too often.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS:rMD-BO_ Right.
He told people at the beginning of this search that he did not want to
recreate the first few months of John Kelly`s tenure, when Kelly did
curtail access to the Oval Office, he put up restrictions for the
He did some things to streamline the policy process in the building, but
eventually Trump chafed. He decided he didn`t want that anymore. He grew
very frustrated, and the two really had a falling out, began to clash. By
the end, they were barely speaking.
He did want someone in there. Yes, he likes – he likes Mulvaney`s
managerial experience. He`s run two agencies now. He likes the idea that
he`s a former congressman, that he need knows there – he`s going to need
better relationships with the Hill going forward – although Mulvaney not
the most popular congressman over there.
MATTHEWS: Does he want a chief of staff, Jonathan?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: No.
MATTHEWS: No. Or does he want a concierge, somebody who will fix things
for him, do things for him, like a concierge in a nice hotel?
CAPEHART: Yes. No, that`s actually a…
MATTHEWS: Somebody who will fix all the problems. Fix the plumbing. The
toilet stopped up.
MATTHEWS: Can you do that?
MATTHEWS: Can you get me better napkins?
CAPEHART: That is actually the best word, not a chief of staff.
CAPEHART: Chief of staff, but a concierge, someone who will do what Trump
asks him to do.
And it`s not what you`re talking about. What John Kelly tried to do was
impose regular order on the White House. The president doesn`t want regular
order. This is not a normal White House.
And so the fact that he chose someone to be chief of staff is what`s so
surprising, because we were talking months ago about the fact that he very
well could try to run the government without – run the White House without
MATTHEWS: Hey, Jake, can you get in here? I want some of that apple pie
we had for lunch today. I`m getting a little lunch 4:00. Can you get me -
- is that what he wants?
JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, this is why he has
acting in the title, because this is what he`s going to…
MATTHEWS: Well, they`re all acting.
RUBIN: That`s why it`s somewhat absurd, because, of course, they all serve
at the pleasure of the president.
It is interesting that he finally had to choose someone on a Friday
evening, because the story was becoming embarrassing. I mean, you kind of
cringe for him at that.
MATTHEWS: He was killing the storyline on “Meet the Press.”
RUBIN: Yes, exactly.
MATTHEWS: He didn`t want it to be more of, this guy can`t find a chief of
But the bottom line is, Jonathan Lemire, he couldn`t find a chief of staff,
A number of the top candidates pulled themselves from consideration.
MATTHEWS: What did Christie pull off today or yesterday? Why did he go in
and meet him for the job if he didn`t want it?
LEMIRE: Well, I mean, the Christie – he does want to maintain that
relationship with the president.
There`s been some suggestion he might want to move into the building at
some point in the tenure, but not now. He is saying he`s concerned. He`s
got a book coming out. He wants to be able to promote that. He wants to
be in the private sector for a little while to make some money after years
of government service.
And, of course, there still remains the Jared Kushner issue, which is a
MATTHEWS: OK. Was that real, that he was going to make his son-in-law
his chief of staff?
MATTHEWS: Who pushed that story?
LEMIRE: That was floated around to some people.
MATTHEWS: MBS pushed that one?
LEMIRE: I don`t know if he was involved this time.
But Kushner, certainly, if asked, the sense was he would serve. But it was
not something he wanted to do. He feels like he`s in a better position to
help the president from where he is now.
And also let`s remember chief of staff can be a pretty thankless job,
particularly for this president. There was no need for Kushner to have it.
MATTHEWS: This is how dizzy it got. And you and I know Washington pretty
Here we got one guy wants David Bossie, who is sort of a cowboy. I like
the guy. He`s a cowboy. He`s an outrider, an outrider, really, a
volunteer fireman, like other people we know.
And then there`s the ultimate inside Washington guy, who knows all the
right places to go at night, knows everybody. And that`s Wayne Berman.
How can he be for Wayne Berman and for David Bossie? They don`t make any
RUBIN: Because he doesn`t have a normal set of criteria. He wants the guy
who looks the part or says the right thing to him.
MATTHEWS: Well, that would be Wayne Berman.
RUBIN: Or decides that he`s – compliments him the best.
His decision-making is not the decision-making process of a normal
MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he pick David Urban? Why didn`t he go with a guy who
is a tough guy, Arlen Specter`s chief of staff? Perfect. He got him
Pennsylvania, perfect candidate. Why not? Too tough for him?
LEMIRE: Perhaps so.
I mean, he felt he does get along with Mulvaney. He has said to people he
wanted to have a personal connection with his chief of staff.
Mulvaney is someone who`s in the Oval Office frequently to brief him.
Trump likes their rapport. He valued that as part of this job.
MATTHEWS: That won`t last.
LEMIRE: I was just going to say the same thing.
MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen sent a clear
message to the president this morning, telling him he no longer has his
loyalty. Talk about goodbye. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: You lied for him for a long time.
COHEN: More than 10 years.
COHEN: Out of loyalty. Out of loyalty to him. I followed a bad path, and
hence how we started this conversation.
I have my freedom, and I will not be the villain. As I told you once
before, I will not be the villain of his story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he`s – I`m calling him citizen Cohen tonight because he
said, I`m going to work for the country now. No longer working for Trump.
CAPEHART: He has been saying that for a few weeks now, if you read Emily
Jane Fox in “Vanity Fair,” that he feels so betrayed by the president after
going – saying to her, I would take a bullet for Donald Trump, and then
when everything fell apart, and he`s sending smoke signals and flares,
where`s my pardon, say something to hang me – keep me in your corner, it
And so Michael Cohen goes out there. He cooperates with SDNY, with
Mueller. He does interviews where he makes it clear, we are done here.
And that interview with George Stephanopoulos today is like the final nail
in the coffin. I will no – I am no longer loyal to you. You were not
loyal to me. And so we`re going to have it out.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan Lemire and Jennifer, who has he stuck his neck out for
yet, the president?
LEMIRE: The president?
LEMIRE: I mean, very few.
LEMIRE: He`s obviously – I mean, he`s defended Ivanka Trump, his
daughter, and Jared Kushner.
LEMIRE: But that is it.
With this president, loyalty sort of extends within his own family, and not
much further. That has always been the case.
MATTHEWS: The Romanovs.
LEMIRE: He expects loyalty to him, does not give much in return.
MATTHEWS: Why should somebody stick their neck out for him, if he won`t do
it for them? You got to be reciprocal here. I mean, it`s so obvious in
politics. If you`re going to gang together, you gang together.
The reason why people do it is because – for all the normal reasons. They
want it on their resume. They want the power. They want the access to
The problem, I think, with all of these people is that Trump never expected
any of them to turn. He has this view of himself as loyal. He has this
view of himself as the – if we want to continue the analogy – the manager
of the hotel, and all the people love him. They all love me. They all
So, when someone turns on him, I think Trump is genuinely shocked.
But, listen, this guy wants personal redemption, moral redemption. His
life as a lawyer is over. This is how he regains, I think, his own self-
respect and his own standing within his family and the people who know him.
LEMIRE: He also needs to make money after he leaves prison in a few years.
MATTHEWS: Why do I keep thinking Tony Curtis when I see this guy?
RUBIN: It is.
MATTHEWS: He looks like Tony Curtis.
Anyway, the Roundtable is sticking with us.
And up next, these three will Tell Me Something I Don`t Know.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL Roundtable.
Jennifer, Tell Me Something I Don`t Know. And it`s Friday night.
RUBIN: There you go.
Republicans are desperate. Republicans who didn`t support Trump are
desperate to find someone who would challenge him.
And who is raising his profile? Larry Hogan. The just reelected governor
RUBIN: … made a big speech, had a nice splash at a conference this week
of never-Trumpers, wrote an op-ed for our paper on climate change. And
he`s going to be meeting with some pretty influential Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Is Charlie Baker going to run? Because he`s even more popular
RUBIN: I haven`t heard his name.
But, listen, I think you`re going to see a little bit of a bubble…
MATTHEWS: Always look at people that win in bad times.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan Capehart.
CAPEHART: So, we were all marveling at the photo from White House holiday
party of John Kelly and Reince Priebus, the chiefs of staff club, in a
Well, news out that Reince Priebus, with the help of Defense Secretary
James Mattis, is joining the Navy as a reserve officer.
MATTHEWS: Reince Priebus is?
CAPEHART: Reince Priebus.
He comes from a family of Naval…
MATTHEWS: How old do you have – isn`t there – I mean, Gary Hart was the
other guy I knew who joined it very late, became a Reservist very late in
Go ahead, Jonathan Lemire.
LEMIRE: The president now has a chief of staff, but there`s still needs to
be a budget deal worked out. There`s still the possibility of portions of
the federal government shutting down.
Tomorrow night, he is hosting at the White House the Congressional Gala.
That is sort of the Christmas party. There could be some talks there,
although Senate majority – Senate Minority Leader Schumer, incoming –
expected incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both don`t expect to be at the
But the press pool, we are supposed to be there. We expect will hear the
president talking about what he wants to see before…
MATTHEWS: Does he let every – does he set up one of those lines where he
and the first lady shake hands with all members of Congress?
LEMIRE: We could see. He didn`t not do that every party last year, but
there is the expectation…
MATTHEWS: He`s never done it for us, has he, Jon?
LEMIRE: No, he`s not done it for the media.
MATTHEWS: He`s never done it for the media.
LEMIRE: There was no media holiday party.
MATTHEWS: I know, I know, because Barack Obama and George W. and all the
ones before would stand there for hours, four hours at a time, then another
night with the print people, then with the TV people and radio.
He doesn`t want to meet us , does he?
He did have an event last year with no handshake line. This year, no event
at all. And that`s all right.
MATTHEWS: So much for the fake media, as he calls us.
MATTHEWS: Doesn`t look good for him, though.
Jennifer Rubin, Jonathan Capehart, Jonathan Lemire.
When we return, Let Me Finish Tonight with the moral echo of what happened
on this day six years ago.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let Me Finish Tonight with a moral echo of what happened on this
day six years ago.
It was on December 14, 2012, that 20 first-graders and six teachers were
gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Remember? Of course you do.
Here`s President Barack Obama that day addressing the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They had their entire
lives ahead of them, birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.
Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives
to helping our children fulfill their dreams. So, our hearts are broken
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It`s important to recognize that, today, those lost first-
graders at Sandy Hook would have been seventh-graders.
So, one of the questions that we should ask each of the 2020 candidates for
president is, where do they stand on gun safety?
We already know what this president stands for: himself.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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